The dust bunnies have been self-actualizing again, so I decided to spend the weekend cleaning. Music usually helps make the dusting and wiping and scrubbing less tedious, so I tucked an iPod in my pocket and set it to my mid ’90s playlist, otherwise known as “Wilderness Music.”
I call it that not because I went camping a lot during that time, but because the songs on the playlist are from the years right after college, aka my wilderness years.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after graduating from Bryn Mawr. I hadn’t yet decided on journalism, and my somewhat nebulous notion of becoming an English professor died shortly before I turned in my senior thesis. It didn’t help that there was a recession that summer, and the next year, which meant even entry-level jobs were hard to find.
Before going to j-school and landing a full-time news job, I spent three years working retail (including a stint at Disneyland), acting and stage managing at a community theater, taking flying lessons and having relationships that went nowhere.
To afford my expensive hobby, not to mention health insurance for the RA, I lived at home, and while I chafed at being a grown child under my parents’ thumbs it was better than living with a roommate in a sketchy part of town. Or that’s what I told myself when I questioned my uncertain future.
The songs on the list were the soundtrack of my life at the time. Sheryl Crow’s “Leaving Las Vegas,” for the first time I traveled there by small plane with my boyfriend at the time. He was also my flight instructor. Oops.
Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to my window” for when we broke up, and my heart was broken.
Natalie Merchant’s “River,” for a trip with a friend to the spot outside the Viper on Sunset where River Phoenix collapsed. That same night, we would also go to the Roxy, and witness a down-on-his-luck Corey Feldman try to talk his way in.
Mazzy Star’s “Fade into you,” which played at the coffee house on the Santa Monica Promenade, where I’d meet my best friend who was going through her own wilderness years, living in Venice Beach with two male roommates and getting angry telegrams from her disapproving parents.
Juliana Hatfield’s “Spin the Bottle,” part of the “Reality Bites” soundtrack. The film mirrored my own crises, though I was pragmatic enough then to recognize I wouldn’t have picked Troy.
Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing in a broken phone booth,” as I started flying on my own after getting my license (with my third instructor, a woman). And saved my life by restarting the engine when it quit at 5000 feet over Dana Point.
But the one that really sums it up was “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty. I’d liked it when it came out right as I started college, but it really resonated after I graduated. I leave it below.
All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.